For Panasonic Toyota Racing, the European Grand Prix, round nine of the world championship at Nürburgring, is the team's first 'home' Grand Prix. At the end of the opening day's practice, Mika Salo was 9th quickest and Allan McNish 18th as both conducted varying programmes.
The famous 14-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife was last used for a Grand Prix in 1976, when Niki Lauda suffered his near-fatal accident. A new, much shorter circuit returned to the F1 calendar in 1984. This year sees another reworking of the track, with a tight new first corner complex. Just 80 kilometres from the team's Cologne base, the race allows many team members to stay at home, or at least in familiar surroundings.
Although some drivers have predicted problems at the new, tight, first corner, both Toyota drivers think the new circuit is a positive change. "I quite like the new layout, it makes the track more interesting," Salo commented. "As for the car, I was suffering a little bit from understeer and had some minor electrical problems, but nothing major. We still have to find the right set-up but, overall, I'm quite confident.
McNish had his early progress interrupted by a puncture. "That effectively meant that I had to put on a new set of tyres straight away and do a tyre comparison at the start of the first session, which is not the ideal time to do it," the Scot explained. "At the moment we are struggling a little with understeer, which loses you quite a bit of time here. The first corner is very bumpy under braking but the new corners themselves are quite nice. But also quite difficult."
Panasonic Toyota Racing chief designer Gustav Brunner had mixed feelings about the team's ultimate prospects in Germany. "It's not the best circuit for us, but it's not too bad either," he considered. "We are getting a little better with the set-up but this is a track that needs a lot of downforce and that is not our best area, we know. But, we've had two double non-finishes in a row and we hope to reverse that trend and get both cars to the end of the race."
For the first time, the team has a merchandising unit at the track, selling team clothing and souvenirs. There is also a replica TF102 chassis for the spectators to look at in closer detail.
David Coulthard finished the opening day's practice at the top of the time sheets for West McLaren Mercedes, ahead of Michael Schumacher for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Their respective team mates, Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello, were third and fourth. The BMW Williams F1 Team drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher completed the top six.
European Grand Prix - Free Practice Results
Pos. Driver Team Time
1 Coulthard West McLaren Mercedes 1.31.886
2 M Schumacher Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 1.32.041
3 Raikkonen West McLaren Mercedes 1.32.298
4 Barrichello Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 1.32.969
5 Montoya BMW WilliamsF1 Team 1.32.122
6 R Schumacher BMW WilliamsF1 Team 1.33.179
7 Trulli Mild Seven Renault F1 Team 1.33.526
8 Button Mild Seven Renault F1 Team 1.33.708
9 Salo Panasonic Toyota Racing 1.33.715
10 Panis Lucky Strike BAR Honda 1.33.921
11 Heidfeld Sauber Petronas 1.33.963
12 Sato DHL Jordan Honda 1.34.136
13 Frentzen Orange Arrows 1.34.315
14 De La Rosa Jaguar Racing 1.34.322
15 Villeneuve Lucky Strike BAR Honda 1.34.522
16 Massa Sauber Petronas 1.34.680
17 Fisichella DHL Jordan Honda 1.34.735
18 McNish Panasonic Toyota Racing 1.34.941
19 Bernoldi Orange Arrows 1.35.260
20 Webber KL Minardi Asiatech 1.35.372
21 Irvine Jaguar Racing 1.35.579
22 Yoong KL Minardi Asiatech 1.37.503